Saturday, December 17, 2005

Razor Blades

In the computer industry, a common topic of conversation in discussions on "how to make money" is the old razor blade analogy. The idea is that you give away the printer, and make money selling ink cartridges. I think we've all been on the receiving end of that, when you realize how expensive the ink cartridges are, and how quickly you need them. "But I only paid $49 for the printer!" That's exactly how it works.

The other day an actual razor arrived in our mail at home, addressed to my wife. It was from Schick, and it's called the Quattro for Women. It has four blades ! I was sort of amazed that they'd send a whole razor, and some blades, which I knew cost something like $10 at the store. How often does somebody send you a $10 product unsolicited in the mail? Then I realized it was a gambit to try to get my wife hooked on it so she'd buy more blades. The exact same argument we constantly have in the computer industry. I actually chuckled to myself.

I suppose Schick is upset because they have early claim to the invention of the razor, by one Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Schick, in 1926. I am surprised to learn that Schick-Wilkinson Sword is now owned by Energizer (yes, the battery people) and that gives "404 not found". But I digress.

Gillette made a huge splash a few years ago with their Mach 3, which had three blades !

I remember when the twin-blade razors came out. Now that was a real revolution. It had two blades ! And they had lots of diagrams and pictures to show you how the first blade bent the hair over, and the second blade clipped it. It worked on me, and the 3-blade update even worked on me. I use a Mach 3 from Gillette to this day.

But wait! The 4-bladed razor isn't enough. Gillette fires back with the Fusion razor, which, you guessed it, has five blades ! Maybe this has something to do with Gillette's being acquired by Procter and Gamble. In researching this blog post I see now that the competing Quattro from Schick has been out since last year, but I didn't know about it. Maybe they started carpet-bombing the world with free razors because of Gillette's announcement in September of the 5-blade razor.

This is clearly getting ridiculous. I tried my wife's 4-blade razor and I can tell you it doesn't work as well as the 3-blade razor, and if I were objective and didn't like my Mach 3 so well, I'd probably have to admit that the 2-blade razors are fine, too. I don't know about you, but my face is not flat, and most surfaces that get shaved are not flat, so it's hard to see how more than two blades could be improving the situation much, especially on concave surfaces like underarms. But clearly that's not the point. We live in a culture where more is better almost by definition.

This escalation seems silly, yet there is big money chasing this industry, all because of the original concept of keeping the handle and having to buy the blades.

I'm sticking with my trusty Gillette Mach 3, and hoping that now that all these new-fangled 4- and 5-blade razors are out, my blades will get cheaper. And I have no doubt that Schick is busily at work on the 6-blade razor, and that both companies have skunkworks projects working on 7- and 8-blade razors. I can't wait.

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